My eight-month period of unemployment is about to come to an end – I start my new job tomorrow. I had plans in mind for a new career when I left my previous job in April, but didn’t really carry them through.
Even so, looking for another job in programming has been hard. The shortcomings of my skill set didn’t help – too much experience with outdated skills that are not much in demand, not enough experience with the flavours of the month. I applied for a few jobs as a C# developer hoping that my limited exposure to .NET technologies over the last few years might carry me through, but found out that I knew a lot less than I thought. Much of my recent experience is with Oracle – I would have applied for more jobs in that field if there had been any.
I had an interview for a job in the City back in May, and thought I did quite well, but never heard anything back from either the employer or the agency. Dealing with employment agencies has been one of the major frustrations – I got regular calls from agencies who found my CV on one of the job sites, but never heard from them again. A couple of jobs I went for required me to take a technical test – I never got the results from those. In all, before my successful interview I had three on-site interviews and I think four phone interviews – most of them were painful experiences.
December was a bit of a washout for job leads, and I was going to give up until the new year. Then a couple of weeks ago I looked at a local job site on the off-chance, and spotted a vacancy that looked like a good possibility. I put in my application, and was brought in for interview a few days later. I had to sit a technical test first, in which I apparently did very well, and then amazingly the interview went smoothly. I was offered the job next day. I could hardly have picked a better location – in the centre of Southend, an easy drive or bus ride away. After seven years of being stuck out on an industrial estate in Basildon, it is going to be a revelation to be able to step out of the office at lunchtime straight into the High Street!
So what have I been doing during the eight months of leisure time? I managed to largely complete a decluttering exercise on my house. I recorded some music of my own for the first time in twenty years. I’ve been teaching myself some web design skills, and have just about completed a rewrite of my ancient “Socca Stats” system as a web application. I’ve had more time for reading and watching TV, but I’ve done more of the former than the latter. I’ve enjoyed being able to sleep for 6-7 hours per night and thus stay awake during the evenings as a result – this is one thing I want to keep going.
There is no doubt that I am ready to return to work, though. It’s nice to have unlimited freedom, but ultimately some discipline is needed to balance against it. Freedom is still there, it’s just a case of making the most of evenings and weekends.
I don’t get the chance to indulge in random football ground visiting (or “groundhopping” as it is usually known) so much these days between Leverstock Green fixtures, but with just a few days of freedom left before going back into employment, and no Leverstock game until the Bank Holiday Monday, the New Year weekend offered an irresistable chance to go on a whirlwind tour of a few Essex grounds.
There were a small selection of games available on the Friday night, but one of them caught my eye as it was a previously unvisited ground within an
hour’s journey. Thus I set off in wet weather for Waltham Abbey v Ware – a game in Division One North of the Ryman League. This is part of “Step 4” of non-League football – overall the ninth tier of English football. Waltham Abbey’s ground “Capershotts” is adjacent to the M25 motorway, a short drive from Junction 26. The main stand offers around 270 seats in five rows under a cantilevered roof, alongside a terrace covered by a roof made of corrugated iron and scaffolding poles. Behind the near end as you enter the ground is the dressing room block, fronted by a steeply-stepped terrace with a column-free roof. Adjacent to this is a section of uncovered terracing. The other two sides are just open standing on a concrete path, banked a few feet above the pitch – a sure sign that the pitch has been levelled from what would have once been a fearsome side-to-side slope. Some parts of the ground have a pleasingly ramshackle appearance, something to be cherished in these days of increasingly generic stadia.
The game itself was a lively affair in wet, muddy conditions. Waltham Abbey have slipped down the table after a bright start, while Ware are struggling against relegation with just one win from 26 games so far. Abbey led 1-0 at half time, and quickly went into a 3-0 lead in the second half, played in steady rain. However, poor defending led to Ware pulling back two goals in quick succession and made for an unexpectedly thrilling finish. As hard as Ware tried, they couldn’t find an equaliser and the game finished with a 3-2 win for Waltham Abbey. (Admission £8, Programme £2, Attendance 78)
Saturday offered a much wider choice of possibilities, and the chance for a double header in East London. My first port of call was Ilford – another new ground for me. The original Ilford F.C. ended in 1979 when they merged with Leytonstone to form Leytonstone and Ilford F.C. – both names long since lost in the series of mergers that formed the present-day Dagenham & Redbridge F.C. The present Ilford F.C. reformed in 1987 and later moved into the already-existing Cricklefield Stadium. This is an athletics stadium, the likes of which usually don’t make for ideal football grounds, but Cricklefield is one of the better ones. There is only a six-lane track between the pitch and the spectator areas, and there are plenty of good viewing areas. The best of all is from the bar on the top floor of the clubhouse, which must be ideal on a cold day. Next to the clubhouse is a neat little cantilevered stand with about 250 seats. The glass screen ends can make awkward viewing towards the edges, but otherwise this is a nice place to watch from. Substantial banks of terracing line the rest of this side, the opposite side and one of the ends. Some of the terracing is buckled and broken by the roots of trees growing behind it. Opposite the main stand is a small terrace cover, which would be ideal for viewing except that one of the three sections is rendered useless by the dugouts completely blocking out the view of one goal!
The game, between Ilford and AFC Sudbury, was also in the Ryman League Division One North. Ilford are struggling even more than Ware, being bottom of the table with just one win, while AFC Sudbury have their eyes on a promotion or play-off spot at the other end of the table. This was another enjoyably blood-and-guts affair. Sudbury had many more chances but squandered them all. Ilford had their moments too and both sides struck the woodwork during the game. Sudbury played most of the second half with only ten men after one of their players saw a straight red card for a rash challenge. In the end neither side could find the net and the game finished 0-0, a result that doesn’t really help either side. (Admission £8 including programme, Attendance 104)
The Ilford game had kicked off at 1.00 pm, which gave me ample time to get to the second part of my double header. I rarely go to professional games – not least because of the cost. I saved a bit of money by ordering a ticket in advance, but it was still £21 for a ticket to Leyton Orient v Charlton Athletic, moved to a 5.20 pm kick off as it was being shown live on Sky TV. It is probably one of the cheaper tickets for an nPower League One match – the third tier of English football. Orient’s ground at Brisbane Road – or to give it it’s correct title these days, “The Matchroom Stadium” – has been almost completely rebuilt in recent years, mostly bankrolled by their chairman, the snooker entrepreneur Barry Hearn. Three sides have been replaced by modern all-seater stands, but the original 1956 East Stand with it’s pitched roof and gable has been refurbished and retained as the centrepiece of the ground. I was seated one row from the back of the South Stand, behind the goal, and with an excellent view throughout (at least when the other spectators remained seated).
An East London v South London derby match with Charlton sitting on top of the league promised much, but didn’t quite live up to the promise. Within ten minutes of the kick-off Charlton were reduced to ten men, their goalkeeper sent off for handling the ball outside the penalty area when coming out to thwart an Orient forward. Charlton were disappointing throughout as Orient took the lead before half time and looked more likely to score in the second half. The final score was 1-0 to Orient, much to the delight of the home fans. (Admission £21, Programme £3, Attendance 5,097)
New Year’s Day offered another selection of games. I was torn between three options, but after the travelling of the last two days I opted for the nearest one. Thurrock F.C.’s ground at Ship Lane is the only one of the four grounds visited this weekend that I had been to before. When I first came here in 1988 the club had only been in existence for three years and was called Purfleet. They have climbed steadily over the years, and are currently in the Blue Square Bet South Division – the seventh tier of English football. They are struggling at the foot of the table, though, and faced a visit from high-flying local rivals Chelmsford City. Despite being a successful club for most of their existence, Thurrock have never really built much of a supporter base. The location of the ground – in the middle of nowhere by Junction 31 of the M25 – doesn’t help, and their usual home gate is around 200. They were outnumbered many times over by visiting Chelmsford fans today. Even arriving 30 minutes before the game I had to park some distance away, and programmes had already sold out when I got into the ground. Only one snack bar was open, and the queue was long. I queued for most of the first half to get a cup of tea and a burger. Ship Lane’s best feature is its main stand, an unusually retro design for something built as recently as 1988, built into a natural bank. The down side is that it isn’t easy to extend, hence the isolated section of seats in the terrace cover opposite to satisfy the league requirement for minimum number of seats. There is plentiful standing and seating cover on all four sides in this very tidy ground.
The game itself was scrappy. Thurrock weren’t holding back on their challenges, and a tougher referee might have shown at least one red card. Chelmsford always had the edge, though, and went into half time with a 1-0 lead. At half time an unforecast rain shower arrived, which quickly turned into torrential rain. The snack bar queue quickly dispersed, and the second half was played in very difficult conditions, almost farcical towards the end. If the game had kicked off an hour later it would not have finished. Chelmsford added a late second goal to seal a deserved 2-0 win, and many of the spectators were then faced with a long walk in heavy rain to return to their cars – luckily I always carry an umbrella! It was quite a scary drive home down the A13 in extremely wet conditions. (Admission £12, Attendance 729)
So, four games in three days at four contrasting grounds. I can only admire those groundhoppers who seek out games almost every day of the week and travel vast distances to see what are often poor games in modest surroundings – I could never be that dedicated, although I usually try to seek out games when I am away on holiday. I enjoyed this little fling, but I was happy to be back watching my own team the following afternoon!
Zoomable panoramic shots of the four grounds can be found in this photo album:
I’ve just started to play with the rudimentary looping facilities offered by the Boss ME-25 multi-effects box, and I have to say that looping is very addictive indeed. Not just the fascination of adding new sounds layer-by-layer, but also the ability to solo over the completed loop. These sessions sometimes go on for 30 minutes or more!
Rather than have some of my improvised solos become lost forever, I decided to try filming myself. This first clip is a two-minute excerpt from a session that went on for over 15 minutes. The loop is the main verse riff from a song I have been working on called “Epic Blue”, overlaid with a simple bassline. The ME-25 was fed into my amplifier, and the whole thing was recorded with a webcam perched on top of my monitor. Unfortunately the webcam seems unable to record audio without glitches. Anyway, here is a piece called “Shades of Epic Blue”:
The second piece is more ambitious. A simple riff looped into a ten-minute impromptu prog rock masterpiece! The video was filmed using the webcam again, but this time I fed the audio into the Lexicon Alpha mixer and recorded it separately in Audacity. I put the two together using AVS Video Editor and added as many video effects as I could squeeze in. Here, in its full glory, is “Space Rock”:
I have a lot to learn yet, and I now have a hankering for a fully-fledged Boss Loopstation. But this is the kind of level I am aiming for – as demonstrated by the awesome Hook And The Twin:
I’ve been playing about with this blog for about three months, but I think I’ve finally worked out what I want it to be.
I would like it to be a sort of online portfolio, a showcase of the things I do, or would like to be doing. To that end I’ve spent the last few days putting together some “About” pages which can be accessed from the menu in the header and playing around with numerous themes until finally deciding on this one. I believe I now have it knocked into shape to my satisfaction!
I plan to post regularly, whether it’s just a new song or an interesting photograph, or a full-blown essay about whatever subject comes into my head. Feel free to look around and leave comments – I would like to have an audience for what I’m doing and I’m always interested in feedback.
As for the title of the blog…2839 is just a number I pulled out of the air five years ago when I created a YouTube profile, and I’ve used it for profile names on several other sites since then. Might as well try to “leverage” it as some kind of “brand identity”!
In July I bought myself two new toys: a Fender Telecaster and a Boss ME-25 multi-effects unit. The Telecaster is the first decent electric guitar I have ever owned, while over the years I have had little contact with effects pedals.
Playing with the effects unit was a revelation – so this is how my favourite bands make their guitar sounds! The delay and reverb effects are particularly addictive, and it was while experimenting with these, plus a harmoniser effect, that I came up with the main riff for this track. I used different effects to get as “twangy” a sound as possible for the chorus part. The natural “twang” of the Telecaster sound helped as well.
I’ve also added some reverb to the drum sound which I think makes the electronic drums sound a little more real, on the other hand it makes the unevenness of my drumming a little more evident!
This was recorded over the 28th and 29th of July. I didn’t have a title in mind, but the insect that was buzzing around the room while I was recording (luckily not through a microphone) sorted that out.
This is “Fly”. Please give it a listen and add any comments that come to mind!
To start the ball rolling (no pun intended) with action photos from the 2011/12 season, here are a few that I have captured at pre-season friendlies.
The first is from Leverstock Green v Hemel Hempstead Town on Friday 15th July. Former Green defender Bill Morgan slides in with a mistimed tackle and brings down Green striker Andrew Cracknell. The referee awarded a penalty for this:
This one is from Northampton Spencer v Leverstock Green on Saturday 23rd July. Green skipper Lee Bircham has made an unlikely run down the left touchline and is about to send over a cross resulting in a second goal for his side:
This one is from Stambridge United v Great Wakering Rovers on Tuesday 26th July. I don’t know the names of any of the players involved here, but this was the opening goal for Wakering, who went on to win the game 8-1.
Another chapter in the history of my computing kit opened this weekend with the purchase of an eMachines eM355 netbook. This is to replace my Acer Aspire One netbook which has finally given up the ghost. It’s had a short but colourful history.
Before netbooks became the boom industry they are today, they went through a couple of phases. The first incarnation eschewed the need for both a hard drive and Windows, being supplied with flash memory and some variety of Linux operating system, and to be fair these machines probably performed their job very well, whatever that job was meant to be. The buying public clearly didn’t want to be bothered with Linux, though, so Windows XP was soon offered as an option. This was the model which I bought in April 2009.
The problem is that Windows just does not fly on machines with flash memory, which is why those variants soon disappeared in favour of small hard drives. I found this to my cost, as I went through endless frustrations trying to use the netbook in the face of its preferred desire to freeze up and do nothing for minutes at a time. I honestly felt like throwing it against a wall numerous times, and mostly avoided using it.
I tried several suggestions to improve the netbook’s performance before I found the one that really worked – installing a utility called Flashfire. It was unbelievable – with Flashfire installed the thing ran like a dream! In this state, the Acer finally found its way into general use. It’s ideal for quick use anywhere around the house or garden, and with a mobile broadband dongle it’s usable on day trips and visits to my mother. It’s even been to New York and Berlin with me, being easy to stow in my hand luggage.
Trouble is, the boost in performance comes at a cost of Flashfire corrupting the flash storage. Before long the “disk checking” screen comes up on every boot. The machine remains usable – just – although browsing history and cookies may not be maintained correctly and irritating alerts pollute the screen.
In the end, though, the corruptions cause a major malfunction, at which point a recovery CHKDSK must be performed to repair the damage. This usually provides a few days grace from disk issues, but it’s a battle that is never won. After another malfunction on Saturday, the machine refused to boot at all – just flashing a momentary “blue screen of death” on entry to Windows before going back to the start of the boot process. Another recovery CHKDSK seemed to get it going again temporarily, but it resumed the cycle of death next day. I think it’s now safe to assume that this machine’s useful life is over.
It’s the latest in a long line of spent silicon. This list goes back thirty years to the Sinclair ZX-81,which plunged me into the world of programming. Having mastered ZX BASIC, I taught myself Z80 machine code, and even had three of my programs published in Your Computer magazine. My next computer was the Memotech MTX-500, one of many “home computers” of the 80s that never gained a significant user base and sank without trace. I never had much affection for this one.
My first “proper” computer was the Sinclair PC-200, bought in 1988. It was a PC with 512K RAM, a single floppy drive but no hard drive. It didn’t need a monitor, you simply plugged it into your TV. This model was much-maligned at the time, but it was far in advance of anything I’d ever used before. It was the first machine I ever connected a printer to. Using Turbo Basic I wrote a football statistics system that I still use to this day. I still have the PC-200, and it has returned to occasional use more recently than you might imagine.
My desire for more disk drives led to the purchase of an Amstrad PC2086, which had twin floppy drives, but still no hard drive. I upgraded it with a 20Mb hard card – which was more than sufficient at the time. I used every expansion port and card slot that the machine offered, adding a sound card and speakers, external 5 1/4” inch floppy drive, and even a serial modem, supplied by my employers, to connect to the mainframe to perform out-of-hours database support.
In 1994 I went mobile with my first laptop – a Zenith Data System model that was quite compact for the time. Still only a monochrome screen, but it was my introduction to Microsoft Windows 3.1 – the first properly usable version of Windows. I got a lot of use out of this laptop, although its performance deteriorated – I think some of the memory failed – and eventually the hinges on the lid broke, which brought its active service to an end.
By then I had already bought another new desktop machine, an Atlantic PC, late in 1996. This came with Windows 95 and an enormous 2Gb hard drive. A lot of firsts here – my first colour screen, Pentium processor and CD drive. I connected to the internet for the first time on this one. This was a very good machine which served me well for many years.
By contrast, my next one was a disappointment. An Advent PC bought from PC World at the wrong time. It was supplied with Windows ME, acknowledged now as one of the worst ever versions. I had problems from the start with blue screening and freeze-ups. I persevered, however, and got years of use out of it. I connected to broadband for the first time. I ripped most of my CD and vinyl music collection to MP3 on this machine. I downloaded and edited holiday photos from my first ever digital camera. It lived on until 2008, by which time it wouldn’t even boot into Windows properly.
Meanwhile, late in 2005 I found the need for a laptop again, and purchased an Acer Aspire 3614WLMi. This was, and still is, a fabulous machine. It had Windows XP. It worked – it did everything I asked of it and very rarely let me down. I connected a USB TV tuner and recorded TV programmes. I learned all about video processing on this laptop. It went with me on holiday, including a trip to Los Angeles in 2008, and even to Whitby a few weeks ago, although it largely stayed put once the aforementioned Acer netbook had become a better option for mobility. It was my primary laptop for over five years, and it was with some reluctance that it was supplanted this year.
Before that, I needed a new desktop machine, a Packard Bell PC which I bought from PC World in April 2008. Bad timing again – this one came with Windows Vista, which must rival Windows ME for the title of worst-ever Windows. So despite its quad-core processor and 4Gb RAM, it has always given me headaches. If left in standby, it wakes itself up at 6AM for no apparent reason. It endlessly and noisily thrashes the hard drive when I’m not even using it. It drops the internet connection on a regular basis. I’ve tried all sorts of suggestions to fix these issues but to no avail. This machine now handles TV recording duties, heavy-duty video processing and my home studio recording, but for all other tasks I’ve always preferred to stick to my trusty laptop, despite its massively inferior spec.
The performance of the Acer laptop was becoming a concern to me early this year, and I finally decided to fork out on a shiny white Sony Vaio laptop. No skimping on the spec with this one – 17” screen, 6GB RAM, 500GB hard drive. It’s too big for my existing laptop bag, and frankly it’s unlikely that it will ever be moved from my desk. But it’s a worthy successor to the Acer laptop. Windows 7 is a massive improvement on Vista, and this is another machine that simply works, without me having to fight it. I hope that this one will give me at least five years’ service, if not a lot more. It’s hard to believe that its performance will ever be inadequate.
And so to the new eMachines netbook. I haven’t even opened it yet – setting up a new computer is hardly one of the great delights of life. I’m often told that I should go for a Mac, but I feel I’m too hooked into Windows to make the switch. Maybe when the desktop machine needs replacing I’ll consider it.
For now, though, I’m content with what I’ve got. The money I’ve paid out on all the above kit doesn’t bear thinking about – and I haven’t even mentioned the five printers and two scanners which have passed through my hands. I hope I never have to write a “Part 2” of this far-too-long blog post…
I did something this evening that I probably shouldn’t have. I looked at the pop charts. It might as well have been in a foreign language for all it meant to me. These are three of the acts currently in the top ten: Nicki Minaj, Rizzle Kicks, Loick Essien. Anyone? It made me wonder whether chart positions are now being based on Scrabble scores rather than record sales.
Perhaps these are good songs. I don’t really have the urge to go onto iTunes, or whatever it is the kids use these days, to find out. I’ve heard of the current number one Cher Lloyd, because I had the misfortune to catch a bit of last year’s X-Factor. Her song (which I haven’t heard) has gone straight in at number one. I assume that’s not as a big a deal as it was when The Jam went straight in at number one with “Going Underground”.
The sad thing is that thirty or so years ago I would have known everything in the charts. In those days the new chart was released at Tuesday lunchtime, and I would write it all down so that when the Top 40 was broadcast on Sunday afternoon I would know when to press Record on my little tape recorder. Amazingly I still have the radio and the cassette recorder I used back then, and I even still have some of the tapes. I guess that illegal downloading has replaced that activity nowadays, but I wonder if anyone follows the charts as religiously as I used to?
I think I grew out of following the charts so closely in the mid-80s, not least due to the fact that most of my favourite bands rarely troubled the charts anyway. However, I would still have watched Top Of The Pops for many years, and still had a general idea of what was going on. A shelf full of “Britpop”-era CD singles shows that I had a revival of interest in chart music in the mid-90s. These days I rarely listen to the radio, and I haven’t read the NME for years, so I’m generally clueless as to the state of both mainstream and alternative tastes.
However, this shouldn’t be read as a “things aren’t what they used to be” diatribe by a grumpy old man. I do have an active interest in current music. I’ve been to 14 gigs so far this year, and only three of them have involved acts that date back to the 80s.
A debut album released this year – “And So The Morning Comes” by Evi Vine – is as good as anything I have heard in the last 30 years. A truly stunning and beautiful album. A band called Strangers are producing a series of perfect pop songs that are catchy, memorable and deceptively dark. I’m eagerly awaiting an album of compelling, hypnotic sounds from Hook and the Twin. Whilst following these bands around London’s live circuit I’ve come across other delights on the bill, including The Title Sequence, and a new band from East London called Paradise. Just a couple of weeks ago I watched the first ever gig of a new band from Southend called Lanterns.
I’ve no idea whether any of these bands will make the Top 40, or even how near they are to any kind of national recognition or radio play. All I know is that there is good new music out there to be heard, and with the wonders of social networking, these days there are more ways than ever to discover it. All in all, I’m quite happy for the charts to remain an irrelevance to me!
Live review: Bachelorette, Hook And The Twin, The Title Sequence at the CAMP, London, 22nd June 2011
I went to my 12th gig of the year last night, so I thought it was about time I tried to write a review of one! The venue was The City Arts and Music Project, near Old Street tube station in London. The stage is in the basement, which is accessed by a staircase next to the main bar. It’s a spacious room with a decent-sized elevated stage, with décor which is very much “tatty urban chic” – or maybe it’s just never been decorated. Anyway, it has the right feel for a gritty indie venue. The bar in the venue area only serves bottled beer, and it’s not the cheapest.
The band I came to see was Hook And The Twin, who I have been following since I first saw them play live in January 2010. They were the second of three acts playing tonight.
As is usually the case, I turned up too early, and I was the first one into the venue. A couple followed me in a few minutes later, although one of them disappeared for a while.
Rather embarrassingly, by the time the opening act The Title Sequence took the stage at 8.45 pm, I was one of only two people in the audience! This was rather a shame, as they were excellent. A duo comprising David Bailey on guitar and Nick Crofts on keyboards, the centrepiece of their stage set is a reel-to-reel tape deck which provides extra backing to their sound. The music is a kind of indie-folk, at times dreamy and hypnotic. The closing number “Evening Spent With You”, the b-side of their debut single, was particularly impressive, building to a soaring crescendo. They are a band well worth investigating, and I have already purchased their single from iTunes on the strength of this performance.
The audience had increased to 17 by the time The Title Sequence finished their set, and continued to grow as Hook And The Twin set up their equipment. When I saw them play live last year, it was just the duo of Tom Havelock on guitar, bass, keyboards and vocals, and Marcus Efstratiou on drums, the live sound built up using layer upon layer of looping. This year, they have added James and Anna Vincent from indie pop band My Tiger My Timing to the live line-up. James shares the guitar and bass duties with Tom, and Anna adds extra keyboards and backing vocals, creating a more organic live sound. They opened with last year’s single “Bang Bang Cherry”, although it didn’t go to plan as Tom’s effects microphone failed to produce the required vocal effects! Nevertheless they played on, and completed a superb set of six songs, with new tracks “Tribes” and “We’re So Light” standing out.
The headline act was Bachelorette, which consists solely of New Zealand-born Annabel, who has been around long enough to have already made three albums. Her stage set is somewhat unusual, two tables supporting a huge flight case, on top of which sit a couple of laptops, a keyboard, and various other mixing/sequencing boxes. Her music is built around electronic looping and ethereal vocals. The most obvious reference point is Laurie Anderson, of “O Superman” fame. It’s all very impressive how she controls all the gadgets at her disposal to build up the sounds through looping, but much of the time it seems she is more focussed on fiddling with the laptop than looking at the audience. It just feels a bit lacking in performance value, rather like watching a DJ at work. Interesting, but not as engaging as I would have hoped.
An enjoyable night, anyway, and excellent value at £6 for two hours of original and diverse music.
The Title Sequence:
Hook And The Twin: